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Iron: An essential mineral for a reason

A plate of chicken, quinoa, kidney beans and green vegetables.

July 10, 2023—According to a recent study in JAMA, nearly 40% of girls and young women aren't getting enough iron—an essential mineral.

Researchers looked at data from more than 3,000 women and girls between the ages of 12 and 21. They found that:


National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS):

  • Women ages 19 to 50 need 18 milligrams of iron daily.
  • Men ages 19 to 50 need 8 milligrams of iron daily.
  • Teen girls need 15 milligrams of iron daily.
  • Teen boys need 11 milligrams of iron daily.

Put iron on your plate

For most people, eating a healthy diet is the best way to get a healthy dose of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. To increase the iron in your diet, put some iron-rich foods on the menu. Those might include:

  • Beans.
  • Brown rice.
  • Dark chocolate.
  • Dried fruits, such as raisins.
  • Eggs.
  • Iron-fortified breakfast cereals and bread.
  • Lean meat and poultry.
  • Lentils.
  • Nuts.
  • Spinach.
  • White potatoes.

According to the ODS, you can get the most iron out of plant-based foods by pairing them with:

  • Vitamin C-rich foods, such as citrus fruits, strawberries, sweet peppers, tomatoes and broccoli.
  • Meat or poultry.

If your doctor recommends iron dietary supplements, take them as directed. Too much iron can cause symptoms such as nausea and diarrhea, and it can lead to organ failure, coma and even death. Stay safe. Children shouldn't get more than 40 milligrams of iron a day. Teens and adults shouldn't exceed 45 milligrams daily.

Plus, keep iron supplements out of the reach of children. Accidental iron overdoses are the leading cause of fatal poisoning in kids under age 6.

Get expert advice

Talk to your doctor about your risk for iron deficiency or anemia and if getting more iron in your diet will interfere with your medications. Learn more about iron and other essential minerals in our Vitamins and Supplements health topic center.


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